Michelle Pichette


Chapter 69



* * *

     Harper had stayed in the access ways for days, not wanting to come out, afraid of what would happen if he did.  He’d yelled at Beka and Trance.  He’d snatched things away from Rommie and been generally mean to her.  He’d punched Dylan.  He figured the only reason he was still alive was because he hadn’t thrown that punch at Tyr.  He hid in the access ways, afraid that he’d do the same thing again the next time someone talked to him.  That or cry like a baby before anyone got six words out to him.  Now that everyone had a chance to think things over, they were probably mad at him and ready to be rid of him after all.  He deserved to be put out, he told himself in despair.  He had always been damaged goods.  Now he was out and out broken.  The worst part was, it was all his fault.

     Harper worked on the maintenance he was behind on because he didn’t know what else to do.  He didn’t take breaks except when he found himself crippled by bouts of grief that left him sobbing uncontrollably or so hungry that he thought he’d faint.  He only left to the access way to use the head and grab a ration pack, always going to do that where he knew no one would be.  He kept going until he was so exhausted that he simply collapsed in the tunnel.  Sleep was no release, though.  He had nightmares, horrific dreams about all sorts of grisly fates befalling him while Dom was forced to watch, startling awake to the sound of her screaming.  The memory of sound ripped him apart.  She’d watched what she’d thought was his death.  He’d hurt her.  He’d badly hurt the person he loved the most in all the universe, in all his life, and he could never forgive himself for that.  So he worked beyond his physical limits, hearing her scream echoing in his head.  Hers.  The Admirals pained bellow.  His parents' screams as they died.  All of it, all that pain was his fault and he hated himself for it and punished himself since no one else would.

     Harper didn’t know how long this had gone on.  He just knew that something was wrong when he woke up and he wasn’t cold and his head was resting on something soft rather than the metal of the access way.  He groggily lifted his head, feeling incredibly out of sorts and found there had been a pillow under him, a blanket wrapped around him.  “Good.  You can eat now,” came a deep voice.

     “Aaah!” Harper screamed as he struggled free of the blanket and started away from the voice, only to find himself staring at Tyr.  The big Nietzschean raised an imperious eyebrow at him, then pulled something out of a pack.  “Tyr!  What’re you... Uhhh...” Harper stopped, raising a hand to his dizzy head.  “I feel sick,” he murmured, shaking, feeling woozy and hollow.  How long had it been since he’d eaten?  He wasn’t sure.

     “That would be the sedative,” Tyr stated, taking something out of a warming bag.  “Eat and you’ll feel better.”

     Harper looked up at Tyr, feeling his eyes narrow.  “You drugged me?” he asked, not quite believing it.

     “Yes,” Tyr said unapologetically.

     “Where do you get off...” Harper started angrily.

     “You were half dead from exhaustion and starvation,” Tyr interrupted his tirade.  “You keep this ship in good working order, but you cannot do that when you abuse yourself in the manner you have been.  My continued survival, for the time being, is at least somewhat dependent on this ship functioning properly, so you will cease this self destructive behavior immediately.”  He set a plate of warm food down on the access tunnel floor and pushed it over to Harper was who staring slack jawed at him.  “Now eat, boy,” Tyr ordered him.

     Harper snapped his mouth shut and drew a few furious breaths in before snarling, “Go to hell,” then turned and started to leave.  He’d barely gone three feet when there was an animal like growl behind him and a sense of rushing motion.  Panic surged in Harper and he went into full out flight mode.  He didn’t get far before a hand closed over the back of his neck and he was pulled to a halt, up and around to face a ticked off looking Tyr.

     “You seem to be under the mistaken impression that you have a choice in the matter,” Tyr growled at him, making him shake with instinctual fear.  “That food is going into your stomach.  You can eat it willingly or I can put it there.  The first option will be much less unpleasant for you, I assure you.”  Harper decided that since flight hadn’t worked, he’d try fight, then swung a fist at Tyr’s head.  Tyr caught him by the wrist and before Harper could fully panic over that, he found himself face down on the floor, arms pinned by his wrists to his back and being held in place by one of Tyr’s large, powerful hands.  “Force fed it is then,” Tyr stated blandly, reaching past his head for the plate of food.  Harper whimpered and struggled, but Tyr simply straddled his hips, crushing him to the floor with his weight.  Harper really struggled then, but Tyr didn’t seem to notice as he shifted a little, then started tying his wrists together with something relatively soft, but no less strong than Tyr’s grip had been.

     “Wait!” Harper breathed out, fear blossoming in him as Tyr bound his wrists tightly, then turned on him to bind his ankles and knees too despite the fact that Harper was struggling and kicking desperately.  Childhood terrors hammered at Harper’s brain.  He was being bound and would soon be helpless and at the nonexistent mercy of a Nietzschean.  Pain and horror were the only things that would come of that.  He had to get out of this, his mind screamed at him.  He couldn’t live this again.  “Listen, Tyr.  I... I’ll do what you want, just...”  Tyr grabbed him by the scruff of the neck again and hauled him up, shoving his back against the access way wall and driving the breath out of him with one quick motion.

     “Quiet.  This doesn’t need to get any more disagreeable, boy.  Cooperate and you get freed.  Don’t and you remain bound until you see the error of being uncooperative,” Tyr told him, then lifted a fork full of food in front of his mouth.  His other hand pinned Harper to the wall by his shoulder.

     The fear bled off a little when it seemed that Tyr wasn’t going to do anything unspeakable to him.  Well, at least nothing more unspeakable than taking away his free will concerning things like sleeping and eating.  Harper glared at him.  He felt like garbage and while he could abuse himself as much as he wanted, that didn’t give others the right to do it.  “Rommie!  Rommie, I need...” Harper shouted, about to activate security measures.  Why hadn’t he thought of that before he was all trussed up?

     “What you need is to know that this section of the access way has been blinded to the ship,” Tyr interrupted him again.  “You also need to know that Dylan, Beka and Trance are honoring your wish to be left alone and that the ship knows that I brought food and other things for your care in here with me.  We won’t be disturbed.”

     “You are disturbed,” Harper snarled then gave Tyr a sulky glare.  Tyr let go of his shoulder and grabbed Harper by the jaw.  Not wanting to have his jaw dislocated or whatever else Tyr might have been planning to happen, Harper quickly closed his mouth over the food still dangling in front of it but kept the glare.  That actually took some effort.  Tyr said nothing, just pinned him to the access way wall again and kept shoving food at him.  The glare died off because Harper got too tired to keep it on his face, then the food stopped coming at him, so Harper assumed that it was gone.  That was good, because Harper was so overly full that he thought the meal Tyr had pretty much forced on him might not stay put.  He didn’t want to think about what Tyr might do to him if that happened, even if it wasn’t on purpose.  “Okay.  I ate.  Can you untie me now?” he whined, feeling humiliated on top of everything else.  He would go to some of the tight places near the slipstream core where Tyr couldn’t get at him to do this to him again.  A little voice in him whispered that he deserved this and worse for hurting Dom, and he found himself wanting to cry.  He wouldn’t though.  He wouldn’t give Tyr the twisted joy of seeing him that weak.

     “We need to talk,” Tyr told him, letting go of his shoulder.

     Harper hunched forward and tried flexing his arms a little, his hands already getting tingly.  Worse was he felt panicked, which wasn’t helping his overly full stomach.  He knew that Tyr’s enhanced senses had probably told him that long ago.  Tyr was probably loving it, seeing him submissive, even if it was forced, and terrified of him, though some small part of Harper still refused to believe that Tyr would actually hurt him.  Harper got angry with himself over letting himself be terrorized so easily.  He’d been tied up for longer than this an uncomfortably large number of times before.  It shouldn’t be getting to him like it was.  “I’ve got work to do.  Just untie me, Tyr,” he said, trying to sound angry or indignant or even part way manly.  It came out even whinier than the first time he’d said it and he hated the sound of his own voice.

     “Not yet,” Tyr said, then pulled something else out of the bag behind him.  Harper prayed it wasn’t more food.  He couldn’t eat anything else.  What Tyr did take out made Harper’s forehead crease in confusion.  A viewer?  Tyr wanted him to watch a movie?  “First we need to discuss your recent behavior.  You’ve been punishing yourself for days.  Why?” Tyr asked, just holding the viewer, not turning it on yet.

     Harper ground his teeth for a few seconds in frustration, but recognized the fact that Tyr could wait forever for him to answer.  It wasn’t like he was going anywhere until Tyr let him.  He hung his head, feeling defeated, and muttered, “Because no one else would.”

     Tyr made a deep humming sound.  “You underestimate me.  If you’d done something worthy of being disciplined for, I assure you, I would be equal to the task,” he said after a moment.  “And while I could write volumes on your short comings, none of them can be corrected by the abuse you’ve been heaping upon yourself.  Why would you feel you deserve such treatment, boy?”

     Harper fought his bonds again for a second, wanting to be anywhere but where and how he was.  He knew he wasn’t going anywhere, but he gave it a try.  He was so frustrated, but that gave way to another wave of grief and he had to force himself not to burst into tears.  “I hurt her,” Harper whispered out, the words paining him almost physically.

     “You saved her life,” Tyr countered him without pause.  “Barris would have done to Nelson what he did to you had you not pulled him aside.  You are far younger than the Admiral and what Barris did to you gave you a stroke.  You had stopped breathing and your heart was in the process of failing when I pulled you away from him.  Had he been in your place, Nelson would have died.  That is not supposition, it is fact.  Once he’d killed Nelson, he would have thrown you out of the way as he did me and he would have attacked the girl to find out what she knew.  No one could have stopped him.  You did though.  You put yourself in harm’s way and distracted him with what he wanted the most, a starship.  As he tried to pull that information from your brain, he saw how powerful his future self was in your mind.  Whether you intended it or not, you found the one solution to stopping Barris, pit him against himself.  That saved Nelson and the girl.  You saved them and everything that came to pass because of them.”

     Harper’s head swam from the suddenly rush of information.  He hadn’t known exactly what had happened after Barris had grabbed him by the head and stuck his fingers into his brain.  He’d just heard Dom scream as he lost consciousness, then woke up on the Andromeda.  “I... I... “ he stammered out, still feeling confused and like he was guilty of some horrible wrongdoing.

     “You need to see what you preserved, what came to pass because you were willing to sacrifice yourself for the girl and Admiral Nelson,” Tyr said, putting the viewer in Harper’s lap and flicking it on.  First he was shown the Admiral’s life after he’d vanished.  It was every bit as amazing as Harper would have expected.  He actually felt a little better seeing Nelson found love and had two children of his own.  Harper could only think that he would have disappointed Nelson eventually, that it was good that he had children that probably never made him anything but proud.  Then, as Nelson’s life story came to a close, there was an image of Dom.  Tears welled in Harper’s eyes.  He wanted to be with her more than anything.  Then her life story played out before his eyes and he came to know who she became.  The information confused him at first.  That Dominique Charles had loved him, of all people, was almost unbelievable.  Of course, it hadn’t been Dominique Charles, it had been Dom, his Dom that had loved him.  He closed his eyes, sorrow pressing in on him.  She married real heroes and brilliant scientists.  She had been better off without him.  He would have only held her back.

     A hand came to rest, gently this time, on the back of Harper’s head and neck.  “Tell me, what part of that makes you deserving of punishment?” Tyr asked softly.

     Harper let the tears he was holding back fall and he let out a pained laugh, not looking up, not even opening his eyes.  “You were trying to tell me before, tell me how unworthy of her I am,” he said, barely holding back a sob.

     “I did not show you this to hurt you, little professor,” Tyr told him, gently stroking the back of his head with his thumb.  “And I never said you were unworthy.  That you were willing to die to defend her, not because you knew this but simply because you loved her more than your own life, that made you worthy.”

     Harper didn’t reply to that, just sat grieving for a few moments, that grief not turning back on him as self hatred this time.  Oh, sure, the feelings of inadequacy were still there, but that was a step up from self loathing, so Harper supposed that Tyr had sort of done him a favor.  “Can... can you u... untie me now,” he hiccupped out, wanting to wipe his own face and blow his nose, not to mention get the circulation back in his arms.  He still wouldn’t lift his head to look at Tyr, thinking Tyr had seen enough of him while he was totally messed up.

     “There’ll be no more of this unacceptable behavior,” Tyr stated.  Harper shook his head.  “Good.  You’ll sleep some more now and I’ll consider your request.”

     “What?!” Harper exclaimed, growing alarmed.  Tyr wasn’t going to let him go?  What the hell?!  Harper looked up and saw that Tyr was holding a hypo sprayer.  “No!  Don’t...” Harper started, then Tyr pushed his head to one side and emptied the hypo into his neck.  “Damn it, Tyr!  You can’t do this!  You can’t... can’t do... uhhh,” Harper shouted, fighting his bonds and the overwhelming urge to lose consciousness that came very suddenly on him.  He couldn’t win free of his bonds or the darkness crashing in on him and he fell forward into Tyr’s arms.

     The next thing he knew, he was resting in arms that certainly weren’t Tyr’s.  He stirred a little and all he could smell was raspberry pie.  “Dom?” he asked, looking up to see her smiling down at him.  He wanted to move, to sit up and embrace her, but he was too weak to for some reason.  Dom stroke his face gently and continued to smile down at him.  Guilt assailed him and he felt a shamed blush creep across his face.  “I’m sorry,” he told her.

     Dom laughed softly and shook her head.  “Whatever for?”

     “I hurt you,” he said, feeling the urge to look away from her but not wanting to at the same time.

     Dom’s smile flickered and her face became concerned.  “You never hurt me, but it made me so sad when you were hurting yourself,” she told him.  “Please don’t do that anymore.”

     Harper wanted to hug her, but he couldn’t even lift his arms, much less sit up to do it.  “I won’t.  I promise I won’t,” he said instead.

     Dom’s smile returned.  “Good,” she said, then caressed his face again.  He lay there gazing up at her, content with just that.  She wasn’t angry with him.  The words were like heavenly music playing in his head.  She didn’t hate him.  Dom kept gently stroking him and smiling at him, then got a far away look on her face.  “You’re going to wake up soon,” she told him.  “Don’t forget that you promised.”

     Harper got confused and dismayed.  “I’m not awake?” he asked.  Dom shook her head, still holding and caressing him, but her form was growing blurry, indistinct.  “Then I don’t want to wake up.  Please.  I love you.  Please, don’t go.”

     “Of course I won’t,” Dom assured him, though he could barely see her now, barely feel her touch.  “I’ve always been with you.  Always.  I love you too.”

     That was when Harper started and opened his eyes with a startled breath.  He lifted a shaking hand to his face, then realized that meant he wasn’t tied up anymore.  He also wasn’t in the access ways because he was wrapped up snug and warm in a bed.  He looked around and realized he was in his own bed in his quarters.  He was also naked.  That was a little disconcerting.  What had Tyr been doing to him when he’d been drugged, helpless, and out of it?

     “Harper?” came Rommie’s voice before he could dwell on the matter for very long.  She came and crouched by him and gently brushed his hair back with her finger tips.  She gave him a hesitant smile and said, “Oh, good.  You are awake.  How are you feeling?”

     “Okay,” he said, but he didn’t sound very sure about it, even to his own ears.

     Rommie pursed her lips for a moment, then her face relaxed.  “You over did it when you were trying to catch up on the maintenance.  Tyr found you unconscious in one of the crawl spaces when he went to bring you something to eat.  He carried you out, but you wouldn’t wake up, you were so exhausted.  Don’t do that again, Harper.  You had us all worried.”

     Harper blinked at her, trying to order his thoughts.  Tyr plainly hadn’t told anyone about anything that had gone on between them, including the fact that he’d drugged him.  Harper pushed himself up a little, saying, “Believe me, that’s never happening again if I can help it.”

     “Tyr said I should have you eat something when you woke up, or it might,” Rommie told him.  Harper frowned, thinking that was Tyr’s way of leveling a sneaky threat.  “Trance agrees.  She says you’ve lost weight between being sick and hurt and neglecting yourself while you were working.  She said that you would probably feel weak and might be disoriented.  Do you need help sitting up?” she asked.

     “No, just... Where are the clothes I was wearing?” Harper asked worriedly as he shifted off his side onto his back.

     Rommie made a face.  “They were nasty, Harper, and quite frankly, so were you.  I took off your clothes so they could be cleaned and I bathed you before putting you to bed.”  That news came as a huge relief.  The thought of Tyr stripping him down and scrubbing him up was disturbing, to say the very least.  Since Rommie was the Andromeda, who monitored her crew all the time, it wasn’t as if she’d never seen him in the buff before.

     He sat up, feeling a little woozy when he did.  Rommie was next to him, helping him to get steady, and Harper looked up at her, feeling suddenly ashamed.  He looked back down a little, murmuring, “Thanks.  Sorry I was such a jerk before in the machine shop.”

     Rommie ran hand gently through his hair.  “It’s all right.  You were upset.  Just don’t do it again or I might think you’ve stopped adoring me,” Rommie said.  Harper looked up and she grinned at him.

     He forced a thin smile on his own face.  “Aw, come on, you know you’re the only starship for me.”

     Rommie smiled outright.  “Good,” she said, straightening.  “And to make sure it stays that way, I’m going to go get you something to eat.  Would you like a flexi or something to occupy you while I’m gone?”

     “No, I want to get up.  Give me a sec to dress and shave,” Harper told her as he pushed his covers off.

     Rommie looked ready to argue, then seemed to think better of it.  “If you’re sure you’re up to it,” she said, her tone seeming to indicate that she thought he wasn’t.

     “I’m good,” Harper replied, then carefully put his feet on the floor.  The dizzy feeling from sitting up had not faded entirely and he had to pause a moment before trying to actually go anywhere.  What had Tyr shot him up with?  This was probably Tyr’s way of trying to get him to stay put in his quarters.  That thought made Harper frown and even more determined to go to the mess hall.  “Do you know where my backpack with all my clothes is?” he asked, walking toward his bathroom.

     “I... put your clothes back into your closet and drawers,” Rommie replied uncertainly.  She was probably thinking he might be mad about it.  Harper internalized a sigh and told himself that he had a lot of making nice to do.

     “Rom-doll, you unpacked for me!  You gonna start fetching my slippers next?” he said with the appropriate grin and laugh in his voice.  He wasn’t feeling it, but Rommie deserved it.

     Rommie got that annoyed look on her face that she usually got when he made jokes.  “Harper, I’m a warship, not your maid,” she told him levelly.  Good.  She wasn’t afraid to stand up to him, wasn’t afraid he’d snap or snap apart if she put him in his place.  Still, after she said it, her features softened and she added, “But I’ll wait while you dress and walk you to mess, just in case you aren’t quite as ready to be out of bed as you think.”

     Harper gave her a grateful smile.  “Thanks, Rommie,” he said, then grabbed some clothes then went into his bathroom.  His legs were trembling by the time he got there and he felt a little faint.  Maybe he’d feel better if he ate something, he reasoned.  He had to look in the mirror to shave, but he avoided looking into his own eyes.  He felt ashamed.  His dad had always said that the dead watch over the living.  He’d given his parents and the Admiral and especially Dom quite the show.  “I’m sorry,” he whispered, wondering if they were still watching over him or if they had given up in disgust.  He missed them all so much.  He wanted his mom to tell him stories and his dad to fling him up in the air and make him feel like he could fly.  He wanted the Admiral to laugh that deep, strong laugh of his and ruffle his hair and treat him like he was the best thing that had ever happened to him.  He wanted to hold Dom in his arms and feel her warmth that filled him up to bursting.  His sight misted over.  He told himself to deal as he wiped his eyes.  It wasn’t like he was the only person that ever lost anyone.  He shaved on automatic, barely aware of what he was doing.

     After dressing, he went back in his room and found Rommie looking around with a speculative expression on her face.  “What?” Harper asked.

     “You need more color in here,” she replied.

     Harper gave her a crooked look of confusion.  “Color,” he repeated, not understanding what had brought this on.

     Rommie nodded decisively.  “Yes, color,” she replied.  “You don’t have many personal items and besides your clothing, none of them are very colorful.”

     Harper rubbed his neck.  “Yeah... Yeah, I’ll get right on that,” he said, still not understanding what she was talking about, but at least it took his mind off other things.

     “You should eat now,” Rommie said as she looked to him rather than their surroundings.  Harper nodded, then concentrated on just getting to the Mess deck.  He’d never been so happy to see a chair in his life as he sank down into the nearest one in the room and rubbing his swimming head.  What had Tyr given him?  This called for revenge, cold, merciless revenge.  “Trance gave me a diet you should be following for now.  I’ll go get you some lunch, all right, Harper?”  He nodded, grateful that he didn’t need to get up, and closed his eyes for a minute trying to rally himself.

     “Harper!  It’s good to see you up!  How are you feeling?” came Dylan’s voice through his self imposed dark.  Harper winced behind his hands.  He had been hoping that Rommie would be the only person he’d have to interact with.  Well, he thought with a sigh, it wasn’t like he ever got what he wished for.

     “Better,” Harper answered as he dropped his hands and forced himself to sit up a little.  Dylan was standing across the table from him, looking a little worried but hopeful, classic Dylan, really.  “Just gonna eat a little something, then I’ll see about what I’m behind on.  Sorry about...”

     “No, don’t apologize,” Dylan told him, concern adding itself into the mix.  “And you’re on leave for a bit.”

     “But I...” Harper tried to argue.

     “But nothing,” Dylan told him firmly, then sat down facing him, probably so he wouldn’t have keep straining his neck looking up at him.  Considerate, that’s Dylan for you.  “Look, I know you’re upset and I do understand, much as you think I don’t.  I’m not going to let you try to work yourself to death again.  I do that enough and I’m sorry about it.  I put too much on you, on the whole crew, really.  I’m the one that should be apologizing, not you,” he said, leaving no room for debate, full out Captain Hunt for a second.  Then his features softened and he ran a hand back through his hair.  He was frustrated and didn’t know exactly what to do.  Way to go, Harper, he chided himself.  Take the most positive guy you ever met and make him neurotic.  Way to go.  “Harper, everything is fine with the Andromeda right now.  We need you to get your strength back for when things aren’t so fine, okay?  Just take a few days off, get your head together a little.  I know you’re hurting.  If any of us can do anything to help you with that, we’re all more than willing.  You do know that, don’t you?”

     Harper nodded and looked down.  Good job, he told himself.  Not only to you thoroughly depress Dylan but now everyone thinks you’re gonna jump out the nearest airlock again like when you were infested.  “I know,” he told Dylan.  “And you really don’t need to worry about me.  I went a little crazy, but I’m over it now.  I’m sorry.  It won’t happen again.”

     Suddenly, a hand rested gently on his shoulder.  Harper looked up and Dylan offered him a worried smile.  “It’s okay.  Everyone goes a little crazy sometimes,” he said sympathetically.

     Not you, thank the Divine, Harper thought, but said, “I’ll try to keep it to a minimum from now on.  I think I’ve used up my crazy quota.”

     Dylan’s smile eased and he chuckled a little.  “Don’t worry about it, Harper.  Really.  And this actually made me a little more aware of everything you do here on the Andromeda.  I don’t know how you get all the work you normally do done without winding up on the Med Deck.  We have to do something about that.”

     Harper didn’t know whether to be complimented or worried.  “I’m good, Dylan.  Honest,” he said, trying not to let the worried show.

     Dylan frowned a little and shook his head.  “No, I promised you staff.  If anyone on this ship deserves first consideration when we manage to scare up some more crew, it’s you,” he said as he rose.  “We’ll get together and discuss what qualifications you’d most like in the engineers you’ll be in charge of.  Later, though.  I’d like you to eat and get some more sleep for now.  If you want to talk about anything, anything at all, you know my door is always opened.”  Harper nodded as Dylan circled the table around to his side.  Dylan was one of the good guys, the best.  He meant the things he said, and that was reassuring.  Harper knew he didn’t need to worry about getting tossed out, despite the fact that he’d knocked Dylan on his ass.  “Oh, one more thing,” Dylan said, then socked him in the arm.  “Now we’re even.  Andromeda, make sure our newly reinstated Chief Engineer eats and gets back to bed.”

     “Of course, Dylan,” Rommie said, setting a plate of some of Harper’s favorite things to eat down in front of him.

     “Take care of yourself, Harper,” Dylan said with a smile, then started out the door.

     “See ya, Dylan,” Harper called after him, then put a hand over where Dylan had punched him and winced.  Ow!  Well, he’d earned that one.  At least Dylan had only punched him in the arm.

     “Eat, Harper,” Rommie urged him, pushing the dish a little closer to him.

     “Okay, Rommie, okay,” Harper said, then slowly picked over the meal.  He ate slowly and carefully, a little afraid of how he’d react to food.  Fortunately, whatever was running through his system wasn’t making him queasy and everything stayed put in his stomach.  If he’d only stop feeling dizzy, Harper thought resting his head on one hand as he tried to finish his meal.  Try as he might, he just couldn’t seem to get his head to stop spinning.  Tyr would definitely have to pay.

     “You are up!” came Trance’s voice from the doorway.  Harper winced again, thinking he was about to have a very unwanted physical pushed on him.  He didn’t even know if he trusted this Trance.  Sure, she’d looked after him when he’d gotten sick with that chest virus thing, but she wasn’t his bubbly, sweet, purple Trance.  In fact, this Trance was pushy and a little scary.  He laid his face into both of his hands.  He so did not want to deal with golden Trance right now.  “You shouldn’t be up!  Rommie, he shouldn’t be up.”

     “I’m up,” Harper said, not moving, wishing he’d eaten a little faster so that he wouldn’t be here right now.

     “What?” Trance asked, sounding confused.  Well, to be fair, he had just talked into his hands.

     Harper lifted his head to find Trance leaning across the table, her nose inches from his.  He grimaced and backed up a little, only to have Trance lean forward further towards him, looking at him in a very disturbingly close manner.  “I’m up.  I’m fine.  I ate and now I’m going to go back to my quarters,” Harper said, rising, mostly leaving to get Trance out of his face.

     “I’d like you to come to Medical first,” Trance told him, straightening and seeming ready to follow him.  He so did not feel like dealing with this.

     “Hey, kiddo,” Beka said, suddenly beside him, putting an arm around him and giving him a playful hug.  “It’s good to see you up and around.”

     “He shouldn’t be up or around,” Trance insisted.

     “I said I was going back to bed,” Harper complained.

     “See?  He’s going back to bed, Trance.  Let him alone,” Beka stuck up for him, giving him another hug.  He looked up at her and she gave him a smile.  Not a forced smile or a worried grin or mocking smirk, just a regular old, every day, Beka brand smile.  He didn’t realized until seeing it how much he really, really needed it just then.

     “I want him to come to Medical,” Trance insisted, making him flinch.  He just wanted to lie down in his own bed and stop feeling dizzy and not be poked and prodded while he did it.

     “And yet, he’s going to his quarters because that’s where he wants to be and where you’re not going to bother him,” Beka said, gently turning him towards the door.  “Funny about that.  Later, Trance.”

     “Harper...” Trance started.

     “Let him rest, Trance.  Even you said that was what he needed,” Rommie interjected.

     Trance huffed and said, “Well, the next time you get up, you need to come to Medical.”

     “Sure, Trance, sure,” Harper grumbled, thinking that so was not happening.

     Rommie came up next to them and said, “You’re going to bed, right, Harper?”  He nodded, and she gave him a thin smile and a pat on the arm.  “All right.  I’m going to the Command Deck to relieve Tyr.  Rest.”  Harper nodded again and Rommie walked off toward Command.  Trance came up next to them, gave Harper a look of consternation, but then tossed her hair back and stormed off toward Medical.

     Beka laughed softly and gave him another squeeze as Trance turned the corner.  “Denied,” she said once Trance gone.  “So, now that it’s just us, where do you really want to go?”

     “Huh?” Harper asked uncertainly.  He really wanted to lie down and feel better.  What was Beka talking about?

     “Well, I’m got this spaceship, one that I own, mind you, that’s all fueled up and ready to go anywhere that you really, really want to go right now,” Beka told him, giving him another smile and hug.  “So, where will it be?  Infinity Atoll?  Mabri?  That place you were talking about, the place with, and I quote, ‘the most awesome snow boarding in the galaxy,’ wherever that was.  Anywhere, short stuff, all of them.  Just you and me will go anywhere you want for as long as you like.  Let’s just get out of here for a while and go have some fun like we used to.”

     Harper looked down and pursed his lips for a moment.  Was Beka feeling so stir crazy that she was actually willing to go planet side and do something?  Usually that was the only way she would do so willingly.  Beka and the great outdoors did not get along.  At least she wasn’t so mad at him for yelling at her that he wasn’t her last choice for company.  It was too bad that he was feeling so lousy, because usually he’d love going to any of the places she’d mentioned.  “I appreciate the offer, Beka, but I feel like garbage and I really was going to go sleep some more,” he replied, feeling miserable about turning her down.

     “So sleep on the Maru,” Beka said with a lighthearted laugh.  “I’ll even let you use the big bed in my quarters.”  That was when it dawned on Harper what she was trying to do.  She was trying to cheer him up.  It was usually him trying to cheer her up, so he didn’t catch on right away.  Boy, he was slow on the uptake today.  “What?  No comment about loving the opportunity to share a bed with me?  Come on, I left you the perfect opening!” Beka said with a laugh, nudging him gently with her hip.  Harper stopped suddenly, shaking.  The person he wanted to share a bed with had died three thousand years ago.  He was never going to see her again.  He lifted a hand to his face so Beka wouldn’t see the tears in his eyes as grief hit him again.  “No!  Oh, Seamus, I didn’t mean to make you... I was trying to get you to laugh.  I’m sorry.  I’m so sorry,” Beka was suddenly babbling at him and hugged him for a moment.

     “I’m okay,” he whispered, easing from her arms, then cleared his throat and shook off the tears still trying to come to his eyes.  He looked somewhere in the vicinity of Beka’s chin, not trusting himself to look into her eyes right now.  “I’m all right.  Just tired and all out of sorts.  Give me a few more days, okay?  I’ll be back to normal then.”

     “Seamus, I’m not trying to rush you through anything.  I didn’t mean to upset you.  I’m terrible at this, okay?” Beka said, setting her hands on his shoulders.  “When I lose people, it’s usually because they leave or do something stupid to get themselves... Well, you know.  I don’t grieve.  I just get mad and throw things around and drink a lot and get myself laid and it’s over with.  I hate seeing you hurting like this.  Please, tell me what to do.  I’ll do anything.  Just tell me what.”

     “I wanna go home,” Harper said bleakly, looking down a little more because Beka was trying to catch his eyes.  “But I can’t.  There’s no way to get there.  I mean, the Ubers even bombed the crap out of where I grew up, so it’s not like I can even go there.  I just... I should just get over it, right?  I just... I just need a little more time to...”  He stopped and shook his head and choked back tears as Beka drew him into another hug.  A little more time for what, he asked himself.  To get used to the fact that his entire family, blood and adopted, and the woman he loved with all his heart were all dead and gone?  How long does that take, Harper?  A few days?  Until the end of forever?

     “Do you... Would it help if we... talked about her?” Beka asked, squeezing him tight for a second.

     Harper shook his head.  “Please don’t.  Please,” he begged barely holding back a sob.  Doing that would rip apart what was left of his heart.  “It hurts too much.  Just thinking about... things... hurts.”  Tears spilled out again, he was shaking so hard trying to keep it at just a few tears and not an all out torrent that he was like a leaf in the wind.

     “Okay.  Okay.  Shhh.  It’s all right,” Beka told him softly, holding him tight for a minute, then drew back to look at him and started to wipe his face with her sleeve.  Harper backed from her, using his own, feeling weak and ashamed.  “Come on,” she said, putting an arm around him.  “Let’s not stand in the hall.  Knowing him, Tyr will show up and I don’t think you need to deal with Mister Insensitive right now.”  She bundled him off to his quarters and by the time they got there, Harper had his emotions under control again.  “Want to watch a movie?  Or you could beat me at cards?” Beka offered with a half hearted smile as the door opened.

     Harper shook his head.  “I just want to lie down and stop feeling like I’m hung over even though I haven’t been near any alcohol.”

     Beka frowned a little, and caressed his cheek, saying, “Okay, but if you change your mind, just give me a holler.”  Harper nodded and she placed a motherly kiss on his forehead, then stroked his face again with a worried smile.  “Feel better, kiddo.”  Harper nodded, then stepped back into his quarters and closed the door.  He leaned against it for a minute, almost able to feel Beka on the other side, lingering, wanting to do something about him being upset.  He would have let her if he knew anything that would snap him out of the depression he’d sunk into, but nothing came to him.  Harper closed his eyes, punching the door softly, thinking being away from everyone was the only thing he could do to make anyone feel better.

     After a while, he pushed himself off the door and went to lie down in bed.  He lay on top of his blankets, still in his clothes, staring at the ceiling of the room.  He was thinking about lying in his temporary quarters at the Institute doing pretty much the same thing, daydreaming about things to make for the Admiral or what he might do with Dom that night.  It might not have been as nice a room as the one he had here on the Andromeda, but he’d been content there.  He had almost dozed off as he let his mind drift when he suddenly felt as though there were someone in his quarters.  He sat up quick to look around, which was a mistake because doing so made his head spin and throb.

     “Arrgh!” he groaned out, raising a hand to where the worst of the throbbing was.

     “Is something wrong, Harper?” Rommie asked softly, a hologram appearing next to his bed.

     “No.  It’s just... Was someone here?” he asked, still holding his head.

     “You’re the only one in your quarters, Harper,” Rommie replied.  “If you’re not feeling well, I can get Trance.”

     “Don’t.  I was just dreaming, I guess.  I’m fine,” Harper told her, lowering his hand.

     “All right,” Rommie said, sounding uncertain.

     The hologram vanished, leaving Harper by himself again.  He looked around.  He could have sworn it felt like someone was nearby, he thought with a little bit of alarm.  What if that Barris guy was back or one of his flunkies?  They didn’t always show up on Rommie’s sensors.  What a time to be without his gauss gun, not that it had done much good the last time.  Harper swung his feet off his bed onto the floor, thinking he’d just have a little look around.  He eased quietly over to the bathroom door then peeped in.  The room was empty.  Frowning, still a little worried, Harper went over to his closet and quickly tossed the door opened.  There was nothing there but his clothing and surfboard.  Rubbing his neck, feeling a little silly, Harper glanced around the room one last time, just to be sure, then he spied something he hadn’t noticed before on his dresser.

     There, resting at a slight angle, was his old tin whistle.  He had thrown it into his parents’ grave when they’d been killed, but Brendan had, unbeknownst to him, pulled it back out.  When he’d last seen his cousin, Brendan had returned it to him.  Harper had held onto the instrument sometimes, thinking how much his mom and dad had loved to listen to him play.  He’d learned to play when he was very small and had become adept surprisingly quickly.  However, when his parents had been murdered, it was like all the music had been sucked right out of him, like it had died when they had.  When he had been packing to go with Dom to the Seaview, he had tucked the whistle into the pack, thinking that he would practice a little and then play it for Dom.  She had made his heart feel light and happy again, like music might actually flow out of him again.

     Harper walked over to the whistle and carefully picked it up.  Rommie had probably set it there when she had unpacked his things, not knowing where to put it.  Harper held it and he got that sense that someone was there again and he spun around, taking in the room with alarm.  No one was there.  I’ve always been with you, Dom had told him in his dream.  He looked around the room again, wondering if that was what he was feeling.  There was no sense of menace, just a presence.  Harper blinked and then went to sit back in his bed.  He remembered his dad telling him that the dead often watched their living loved ones, not to do them harm, but simply to be near them.  “Dom?” he asked quietly looking into the empty area he got the sense of presence from.

     “Did you need something, Harper?” Rommie asked, her hologram suddenly in front of him, making him jump back in alarm.

     “Aahhh!  Rommie, don’t do that!” Harper complained.

     “I thought you called me,” the hologram told him, not sounding at all apologetic.

     “Well, I didn’t!  I was talking to...” Harper started, then thought better of it.  Telling Rommie that he was talking to his dead girlfriend wouldn’t be doing anything but confirm that his handle on sanity was tenuous at best.  “Myself.  I was talking to myself.  Look, could you activate privacy protocols please.”

     Rommie’s lips went tight.  “I don’t think that’s a very good idea, Harper.”

     “Come on, Rom-doll.  I want to sleep, but I can’t because I keep feeling like someone’s watching me, which is freaking me out.  Guess who that might be,” Harper told her.  Rommie gave him another tight lipped look, so he added, “And it’s not like I have anything in here that I could hurt myself with, if that’s what you’re worried about.  And privacy protocols leave you with passive sensors to keep an eye on my vitals and stuff.  I just want a little time alone and not having to worry about you scaring the crap out of me again if I talk to myself a little, okay?”

     Rommie still looked dubious about the wisdom of it, but said, “Privacy protocols enabled,” then vanished from in front of him.

     Sighing in relief, Harper rubbed his neck and tried to get his pounding heart to settle down.  He gripped his whistle for a second as he calmed, then the sense that someone was there returned.  Harper looked around the room thinking that if anyone saw what he was about to do, they’d think he was totally nuts.  “Dom, is that you?” he asked quietly.  Nothing changed, the strange prickling at the edge of his senses was still there, unchanged.  Of course, he didn’t know how one went about communicating with the dead, so he didn’t know what he expected to happen.  He didn’t know if anyone was really there or if it was just his imagination anyway.  Maybe he really was losing his mind.

     Rubbing his forehead, asking himself what he was doing, Harper went back to his bed and sat on the edge for a moment.  The feeling of not being alone didn’t fade, though.  He’d sensed it before, after his parents had died especially.  It had actually been sort of comforting then, the feeling of being watched over.  Rubbing his thumb lightly over his whistle, he decided that even if he was going crazy, at least he felt better than he had since losing Dom at the thought of her being here with him, if only in spirit.  Scooting back and settling cross legged in the center of the bed, Harper holding his whistle and looking at it.  His mom and dad had loved it when he played.  Maybe they were who was here.  Maybe it was the Admiral.  He looked up into the empty space over his bed again, wondering for a second if he had totally snapped.  It didn’t matter, he decided.  It was comforting, not creepy, thinking that someone he cared about was there with him.

     “I’m not sure who’s there, or if anyone is, but if there is, I’m sorry I’ve been such a drag to watch,” he said quietly.  He found his fingering on his whistle and laughed uncomfortably.  “It’s been a long time since I played this thing.  I probably totally suck now.  I’ll get better, though, I promise.  Just... stay close, huh?  I need a lot of looking after.”  He sat there, looking down, trying to remember what his mom’s favorite song was.  It had been so long.  She liked happy things.  Dom would like those too.  He closed his eyes and played a jig.  It didn’t flow at first, but after the first few bars, it came easier.  He sat there on his bed and played every song he knew for whoever his spectral watcher was.  Even if it were only in his mind, he was content to do it for the people he loved.

* * *



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Belonging, Chapter One
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